Dramatica Theory Book: Chapter 14

Dramatica: A New Theory Of Story

By Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley

Chapter 14

Concerns, Ranges and Problems

Domains and Beyond

As we have seen, each of these sixteen perspectives has a slightly different flavor as a result of the particular point of view linked with a specific Class. This alone is a more quantitative way to look at Theme than has previously been available, yet we still have three more levels of the thematic structure to explore! Each level will have its own kind of perspectives. For convenience, we call the thematic perspectives created at any level appreciations, which simply means that is how we appreciate a problem at that level from that point of view.

Due to practical constraints on the size of this book, we won’t be able to go into as much detail for appreciations at the Type, Variation, and Element levels as we might like. What we can do is provide a general description of the appreciations found in each throughline. Once one gets a feel for how a throughline changes the meaning of a structural item in general, one can apply that understanding to any item in the structure and arrive at an accurate dramatic appreciation.

To recap, the Main Character Domain represents the audience point of view in a story. The Obstacle Character Domain is the opposing point of view the audience is asked to consider. The Subjective Story Domain contains the passionate argument between those two points of view. The Objective Story Domain is the realm of the practical argument about the relative value of all approaches that might be taken in regard to the story’s central problem including those of the Main and Obstacle Characters.So, a Main Character Throughline explores what it looks like and feels like to have a particular kind of problem (often seen as drive). The Obstacle Character Throughline explores what kind of impact someone with that kind of problem (or drive) has on the people and events around him. The Subjective Story Throughline determines which is the better position to be in personally between Main and Obstacle, according to the author. The Objective Story Throughline determines which is the better position to be in for the benefit of everyone else.

Keeping these points of view in mind, let’s see what other appreciations are created at the Type, Variation, and Element levels.


Just as the combination of a throughline and a Class creates a Domain in which the problem appears from that point of view, the combination of a throughline and a Type creates an area of Concern. So, there will be an Objective Story Concern, a Main Character Concern, an Obstacle Character Concern and a Subjective Story Concern in every complete story. As its name implies, a Concern reflects the area in which the problem will be of greatest concern for each throughline.

Objective Story Concern

The Objective Story Concern is the area in which all of the characters share a common concern. This might be a single item they are all concerned about, or it might be that each of them has a personal concern of this nature. For example, if the Objective Story Concern was the Type “Obtaining”, then all the characters would be concerned with Obtaining something. In such a story, everyone might be trying to Obtain the same thing, such as a buried treasure. In another story with an Objective Story Concern of Obtaining everyone might be trying to Obtain something different. The Protagonist might want to Obtain the treasure, but the Reason Character might want to Obtain a diploma. The nature of the Concern is shared, not necessarily the specific manifestation of it.

Later, in the Plot and Encoding sections, we will touch on how one can pull these different items of Obtaining together into the same story. In the example above, the Protagonist could be a treasure hunter wanting to Obtain the treasure. The Reason Character who wants to Obtain a diploma in archeology joins the Protagonist’s team because he seeks the quest for the treasure as the basis for his doctoral thesis. Tying items together in this manner is not a structural aspect of story, but one of storytelling, and is therefore beyond the scope of this section on The Elements of Structure.

Keep in mind that a Concern of Obtaining might also mean a Concern of getting rid of something. Whether one wants to Obtain or wants to stop Obtaining does not change the nature of the area of Concern. So, for this appreciation and all the following, remember to consider it as either meaning not enough of something or too much of something.

Main Character Concern

As one would expect, the Main Character Concern is of interest only to the Main Character. This appreciation describes the area in which the Main Character is most worried or interested in regard to the way it sees the problem.

If Obtaining were the Main Character Concern, the Main Character alone would be trying to get or get rid of (hold on to or refuse to hold on to) something. None of the other characters would share this Concern because the other throughlines are all in other Classes with different Types. This divergence is what gives a story some breadth and a sense of completeness for an audience. Rather than focusing on just one issue, every point of view regarding the story’s problem falls into a different Domain with its own unique Concern.

Similarly, a Main Character with a Concern of Memory would be trying to remember, to forget, to establish a memory, or to prevent one from forming.

Obstacle Character Concern

Because the Obstacle Character Throughline is looked at in terms of its impact, the Concern here will be seen as the area in which the Obstacle Character has its greatest effect. A way of phrasing this is to say that the Obstacle Character’s impact primarily Concerns this area. So, an Obstacle Character Concern of Obtaining here would describe an Obstacle Character who changes what is or can be Obtained (or refused) because of his impact on the people and events around him.

Subjective Story Concern

The Subjective Story Concern describes the area of greatest conflict or divergence between the Main and Obstacle Characters. They might see eye-to-eye everywhere else, but when it comes to the Subjective Story Concern, they always come to blows. It is the nature of the way the thematic structure is created that the Concern of the Subjective Story Throughline will seem to grow out of the Main and Obstacle Concerns.

If the Subjective Story Concern were Obtaining, the Main and Obstacle would argue over whether or not they should have something. It might be something only one of them has or can have (who should have it?) or it might be something they must either have together or not at all.

Wrapping Up Our Concerns

As we have seen, matching a Type with a throughline creates a Concern. Each Concern provides a deeper appreciation of a different side of the story’s problem for the audience.

Variations On A Theme

Moving down to the Variation level, we find appreciations that further refine the understanding of the story’s problem as it is seen from each throughline. Each of these is called a Range for it describes the Range of subject matter that is appropriately explored in regard to the Concerns in a given Domain. In a sense, the Range might be thought of as the thematic topic for each throughline.

Objective Story Range

This appreciation describes the kind of value judgments that seem to pertain to all the characters and events in a story. For example, a Range of Morality will have a dynamic counterpoint of Self-Interest. This means the thematic conflict in the Objective Story Throughline would be Morality vs. Self-Interest. Because Morality is the Range, it would be in the forefront and appear as the topic or subject matter of the Objective Story Throughline’s Theme.

Because Morality is the Objective Story Range, it will appear almost everywhere. In a hypothetical story, we might see a man taking candy from a baby, a headline proclaiming that a company’s profits are up, while behind the newsstand we see the company dumping toxic waste in the background. Illustrations of the Objective Story Range can focus on the characters or can act as a flavoring for the story as a whole. We shall explore this in greater detail in the Encoding section.

Main Character Range

The Main Character Range (and its counterpoint) represent the thematic conflict of personal interest to the Main Character. It will be seen in the kinds of things this character notices which no one else does. Because it is so personal a value judgment, the author can use this appreciation to whisper his point of view, rather than shouting it overtly, as might happen with the Objective Story Range. Because it is so personal, the Main Character Range helps bring humanity to the Main Character. It is through the issues explored through the Range that the audience can identify not only with the Main Character’s head but his heart as well.

Obstacle Character Range

The Obstacle Character Range provides a way of evaluating the appropriateness of the Obstacle Character’s impact. The Obstacle Character Range and Counterpoint act as a balance or scale against which the results of the Obstacle Character’s point of view are weighed. This is where an author can truly tip the balance as to which point of view the audience comes to favor. Later we shall explore how that balance might be tipped back and forth over the course of the story, making a more realistic and less heavy-handed statement of the author’s bias.

Subjective Story Range

The Subjective Story Concern describes the area of shared concern for the Main and Obstacle Characters. The Subjective Story Range and Counterpoint describe why they come to blows over it. The Main Character will believe the Subjective Story Range (or counterpoint) is the value standard that should be used when looking at the Subjective Story Concern. As a result, The Main Character will see the Concern in a particular light. In contrast, the Obstacle Character will believe the other Variation (Range or counterpoint) is the proper way to evaluate the Concern. Since this standard of measure results in different conclusions about the Concern, the Main and Obstacle Characters come into conflict. They use these two points as they argue over two issues: what should be done about the Concern, and which is the best way to look at it.

It’s Elemental!

Finally, we have arrived at the most basic and precise level of understanding in regard to a story’s problem: the Element level. It is here that the source of difficulties experienced in each throughline can be found. The Objective Story Problem is something that will affect all of the characters and all that they do.

In contrast, the Main Character’s Problem will be the source of his drive. Ultimately, it may turn out to be (or reflect) the Objective Story Problem, or have the potential to solve the Objective Story Problem, if only the Main Character can bring himself to apply it.

The Obstacle Character Problem is the source of his drive as well, but rather than being experienced by the audience as to what is driving them it will be examined from the outside, “What is driving him or her.”

Lastly, let’s examine the Subjective Story Problem. Unlike the Problems in each of the other throughlines, this one is not about an item, but a relationship – the relationship between Main and Obstacle. What is at the heart of their disagreements? What is the most essential issue from which all their conflict grows? The Subjective Story Problem describes the most refined view of what drives (or pulls) the Main and Obstacle Characters apart.

At this point we have defined all of the principal thematic perspectives in a story. We have determined that any Problem might be understood in terms of its Class, Type, Variation, and Element. We have further described that the story’s central Problem itself can never be seen directly, but will be approximated by exploring how it appears from four different points of view. Each view will provide its own understanding of the nature of the Problem’s Class, Type, Variation, and Element. Each of these is called an appreciation. When all the appreciations are considered together in the mind of the audience, the author’s bias on the issues at the heart of a story is established.

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